Review: Tragedy of Convention: Cara Mia Theatre’s BLOOD WEDDING
Federico Garcia Lorca. Blood Wedding. Cara Mia Theatre Company. Duty v. Desire. Moments of breath-taking beauty implode into explosions of anguished desolation throughout the tragedy, burning deep into the senses of those who attend this morality masque, a ritualized soul cleansing with proto-feminist overtones. Through December 13 at Dallas’ Latino Cultural Center.
An internationally recognized avant-garde Spanish poet, playwright, theatre director and impassioned advocate of the theatre of social action, Federico Garcia Lorca railed against urban capitalist society, and his later works reflect these beliefs. His most famous play Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding), first performed in Madrid in 1933, focuses on destruction wrought by society’s repressive conventions. An evocative, experimental clash of drama with non-metered poetry, even the play’s form seems at war with convention. Drama certainly contains poetry, but how well does descriptive poetry lend itself to drama? Lorca stated, “theatre is poetry that rises from the book and becomes human enough to talk and shout, weep and despair.” Throughout Blood Wedding, sensation and emotion take precedence over action and thought, lending the work a disembodied, static quality. The tragedy’s catalyst to action, and destruction, is the only character Lorca gives a name: Leonardo, the horseman. Their societal station names all other characters: The Bride, The Bridegroom, Leonardo’s Wife, Mother, 1st Woodcutter, etc. It’s a tough play to produce with its anti-realistic nature and intense flights of poetry. Cara Mia Theatre Co.’s adaptation, directed by David Lozano, with original music by S-Ankh Rasa, uses the poetic aspects effectively as context against which Leonardo’s conflict, duty v. desire, plays out vividly to violent conclusion. Experimental and remote on one level, the work leaps to life with a visceral urgency under Lozano’s direction, “rises from the book”, in time with the offstage sound of Leonardo’s horse’s fast galloping hooves as he pursues forbidden love. Cara Mia’s production speeds along, blazingly tortured; whipped fast and hard, it’s like a noble horse run to death, as societal convention wreaks havoc and kills or destroys the hearts and souls of all its characters.
Two different men, each approaching convention from totally disparate viewpoints, each desiring the same woman, provide the play’s conflict and illustrate the playwright’s enormous disdain for the “conventional”. The Bridegroom appears early in Act One, in a scene with his mother, played by Frida Espinosa-Muller speaking mostly in Spanish. Brow-beaten and coddled by her in turn, the Bridegroom wears the mantle of a man of convention with ease, trusts that all will be right with his world if he follows the rules.
Cara Mia company member Ivan Jasso plays the Bridegroom clean-shaven and with ready smile, a simple warmth to his demeanor, trusting that all will go well on his wedding day. When the Bride deceives him at the wedding and runs off with the other man, the Bridegroom becomes consumed with self-righteous anger and sets out on an ill-conceived, tragic mission of revenge. All his pleasing plans, all his playing by the rules, come to nothing. Jasso imbues the Bridegroom with ready conviction and eager sweetness; he reveals his character as a simple man who learns too late that rules are made to get broken. His sin? Trusting. His response? Revenge. His reward? Death. Society’s curse. He is the play’s most innocent victim, caught up in convention’s web of deceit.
The other man? The play’s powerhouse catalyst. Wracked with biting disdain, pacing like a caged lion, lashing out with explosive outrage born of anguish after years of self-torture in the service of prescriptive “duty” in a loveless marriage, Leonardo represents the ultimate proto-feminist sacrifice: the seemingly all-powerful male, straight-jacketed into a repressive life of convention, with his only viable emotion rage. Director Lozano cast Cara Mia Theatre Co. newcomer R. Andrew Aguilar as Leonardo. An actor of imposing stature and presence with commanding voice and focused intensity, his Leonardo epitomizes the dominant man convention seems to worship on one hand.
He chafes against that convention, Duty, as his inner nature drives him to abandon all obligations for his true love, the Bride. Aguilar’s scenes as Leonardo convincingly crackle with seething, unpredictable energy as he drives the play forward into tragic descent, creating a fierce, terrifying portrayal of a man surging towards his own death, dragging everyone else along on a downward spiral.
Women figure prominently as a bloc and as individuals in Lorca’s Blood Wedding, some more predictably than others, all with dark aspects. No one evades convention’s wrath in this nihilistic tragedy. The women live in a world of dependency on men, for status and respectability, as well as for survival. All have premonitions of doom as they traverse the play. The Bridegroom’s mother expresses dark concerns about the girl he is about to marry. Leonardo’s Wife, played with elegance and grim backbone by Caroline Dubberly, sings a haunting, melodic lullaby duet to her sleeping child with the Mother-in-Law (rich-toned Lorena Davey) while they await Leonardo’s arrival. The words of the lullaby prophesy death and destruction, instead of hopeful reassurance to the child. Both fret about Leonardo’s return home from one of his mad gallops, which prove to be justified as he rages, threatens and demeans them. Dubberly matches Aguilar’s untamed forcefulness as Leonardo with calm, erect bearing and regal, deliberate response. Lorca did not write her as a cowed, broken woman, and Dubberly makes that clear. Her Wife seems proud, almost flaunts the duty and convention that she manifests, which she knows Leonardo hates. Her strength repels him bounding back out into the night, as she refuses to treat him as a self-styled demi-god.
Even the Neighbor/Servant woman (Lulu Ward), the play’s effective comic relief, strains to maintain a happy demeanor while helping the Bride dress for her wedding. Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso plays the Bride as a fully emotionally developed character. Her Bride seems to intend to go through with the wedding, as convention dictates, but hates the idea with despairing reluctance. She clearly doesn’t love the Bridegroom, deceives him and his family into thinking she is content to marry him. Locked in by convention, Jasso’s Bride appears resolved to make the best of a bad situation. When Leonardo appears at the wedding, she follows her heart and her nature and runs off with him, destroying her respectability and acceptance by conventional society. The Bride and Leonardo’s fates function as poetic symbols for Lorca, representing what happens to the individual in a society of ironclad convention. Jasso’s Bride transcends the symbolic by responding to Leonardo’s incredibly passionate, if almost archetypal, embrace with deeply human tenderness: part passion, part grief, part pity and resignation. She conveys simply, with a gentle touch and long, intense kiss, that their fates are sealed by society’s impending response to their actions. Jasso’s vibrant portrayal of emerging modern woman in the Bride, unwilling to give up her choice as an independent woman, even if it means supreme sacrifice, reflects Lorca’s commitment to liberation of the individual.
The adaptation’s second act gains momentum and delves deeper into the symbolic as the action moves to a nearby forest.
Three Woodcutters emerge (Jeffrey Colangelo, Amir Razavi and Rodney Garza) to describe the lovers’ flight, almost a Greek chorus. A ghastly masked Beggar Woman (Frida Espinosa-Muller, in a captivating second role), representing Death, welcomes doom and destruction, urging a mesmerizing silver-clad human manifestation of The Moon (Adam A. Anderson) to shine brighter so the escaped lovers can be more easily caught. The play ends with only the women surviving, gathered in church, respectable ones on benches, the Bride crouched with face hidden in shame on the floor behind them, her dress covered in her dead lover’s blood. They speak defiantly of survival, but will they? No one evades the wrath of convention in Blood Wedding.
Bob Lavalee’s expressive scenic design reinforces the austere, dreamlike quality of the work and keeps transitions simple and quick. Three monolithic flats of sandstone slab float in and out and across each other depending on a scene’s setting requirements. The dank forest evoked by the Beggar Woman appears as a giant cutout curtain of trees erected instantaneously on a fly rail partway upstage. Original music enlivens the show in an unworldly, indigenous style, with S-Ankh Rasa playing live drums and chimes, and Armando Monsivais playing live guitar. Sound designer Trey Pendergrass recorded Rasa playing didgeridoo, singing bowls, and percussion, then treated the recordings and designed the soundscapes that play throughout the final act. With costumes by Niki Hernandez Adams, dance choreography by Karen Bower Robinson and fight choreography by Jeffrey Colangelo, light design by Aaron Johansen. All reinforce the works themes, moods and the play’s action with well-conceived precision. Ensemble includes Shauna Davis and Kristen Kelso.
It’s a daring choice to mount Lorca’s Blood Wedding, given its complexity and convoluted, symbolic nature. This production marks a crowning creative achievement for Cara Mia Theatre Co. in its 20th Anniversary season, one of consistently outstanding artistic performance. The ensemble honors Lorca’s statement that “theatre is poetry that rises from the book and becomes human enough to talk and shout, weep and despair.” A rare beauty of a production, full of lyricism, passion and societal relevance. Human enough.
The adaptation of Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca runs through December 13 at The Latino Cultural Center.
Mercado Bilingue Talkback, Sunday November 29, with Philip Morales: after 2:30pm matinee
Photos by Adolfo Cantú Villarreal – TZOM Films unless otherwise noted